Friday, March 7 by JerryFoster
This post marks the debut of a new series for our blog, based on bicycle commuting. As a longtime cyclist but a newbie bike commuter, I’ll look at the issues faced by those who want to explore bike commuting as a fun, healthy and sustainable lifestyle choice.
Let’s assume for the moment that you know why you want to bike commute, but want to know what bike is right for commuting? The great news is that any bike will do, especially for short distances over relatively flat terrain.
Some vital components necessary for commuting safety and comfort may be missing though on typical recreational bikes; such as a kickstand, fenders, bell and lights. Fortunately, reasonably priced after-market choices are readily available from your local bike shop or online.
Since I’ve enjoyed my various bikes for many years, however, I bought a new, full-featured commuter bike (pictured). The bike features a relatively light and stiff aluminum frame, fixed fenders, a light capacity rear rack, disc brakes and gearing for hills, and includes a sturdy kickstand and a bell. Most of all, I wanted the electricity-generating front hub that powers permanently mounted front and rear LED lights.
The lights are key to enhancing visibility on the road, since most motorists don’t expect cyclists, and as a commuter I don’t have the advantage of riding in a group, as on a club ride. The front light is powerful enough to see the road at night, and I won’t need to worry about battery life.
And don’t underestimate the utility of fenders…just one ride in the rain or snow and you will understand their benefit!
In the next post I’ll address some additions to the bike, but in the meantime please feel free to comment!
This post also appeared in On the Move, the blog for Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association.
Wednesday, January 29 by JerryFoster
Please join us Sunday February 23 at 5:00pm for a showing of Bicycle Dreams at the West Windsor Arts Center. Admission is free for WWBPA or WWAC members, $5 otherwise.
Bicycle Dreams (2010) covers the 2005 Race Across America, described as ‘having more drama in eight days than an entire Tour de France’. Considered the most challenging sporting event in the world, Race Across America is an epic 3,000 mile bike race from the Pacific to the Atlantic, with top riders finishing in under ten days. Riders cycle over 300 miles per day and sleep only a few hours a night. This award-winning film follows several riders, capturing every emotional and physical breakdown, late-night strategy session and great moments of personal triumph as they overcome searing desert heat, agonizing mountain climbs and endless stretches of open road, all while battling extreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation. What starts as an adventure of a lifetime is transformed when tragedy strikes the race. As the race unfolds it’s clear that sometimes it’s not all about the bike.
Hope to see you there! The West Windsor Arts Center is at 952 Alexander Rd, at Scott Ave, an easy walk from the train station, which offers free weekend parking for Arts Center events in the West Windsor commuter lot.
Thursday, January 16 by Kathy Brennan Werth
Want to learn some basic bike repair? On Saturday, January 25, 1-3pm, we’re holding a clinic at the Twin “W” Rescue Squad building, 21 Everett Drive, near the West Windsor Police Station.
Learn bike maintenance tips such as changing and airing tires, cleaning and lubing chains, and brake and gear adjustments. Bicycles are welcomed, but not required. No sign-ups required, but RSVP’s are appreciated. Email firstname.lastname@example.org - hope to see you there!
Get more information by clicking the link: Bike Repair Clinic Flyer.
Wednesday, December 11 by JerryFoster
To learn to love our traffic engineers, we have to understand why they don’t feel they have the authority to design roads to meet citizens’ needs – the standards won’t let them.
Marohn notes that standards are “the engineering profession’s version of defensive medicine.”
Gary Toth invites us to “marvel at how thoroughly the transportation establishment delivered on its perceived mandate”, including “language/terminology; funding mechanisms; curriculum at universities; values; and policies. Common professional organizations… reinforce and standardize this… at a scale that has rarely been matched by any other profession.”
Citizens should note that engineers are required to follow the standards for traffic signals (Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices) – the others are guidelines.
Toth advises “Design manuals often present standards in ranges from minimum to desirable. Has the designer selected the desirables instead of minimums?” Residents will want the minimums, as the “desirables” are from the point of view of creating a wider, straighter and faster roadway.
In this series, we’ve set up a “straw man” based on traditional engineering practices. The critique reported here comes from within the profession, however, and context sensitive standards such as NJDOT’s Smart Transportation Guidebook have been published that, if implemented, will significantly improve livability, which is the goal of the WWBPA.
We’ve seen how standards’ flexibility enable engineers to design bike and walk friendly roadways, so in our next installment, we’ll look at liability concerns.
Wednesday, December 4 by JerryFoster
To learn to love our traffic engineers, we must understand why they prioritize cost least when designing roadway improvements. Cost varies a lot – $1M / lane mile is a general rule of thumb, but the NJ Turnpike’s current expansion costs $14.7M / lane mile and Boston’s Big Dig cost $136.2M / lane mile.
Standard engineering practice is to build for more speed, which means more and wider lanes, plus expanded roadside sight distances, which may require purchasing right-of-way, etc., all adding to the cost. Also, engineers are required to forecast volume 20 years into the future and build for anticipated increases.
But other factors are at work – e.g. a 1961 bridge in Washington State cost $159M in today’s dollars, but the replacement is projected to cost $4.6B, including 2 additional lanes.
This dramatic $4B increase over inflation points to issues on the process, financial and political sides, including the revolving door between government and private industry, politicians’ dependence on corporate contributions to get re-elected, government dependence on borrowing to finance road projects, even “commonplace” corruption, according to a New York State report.
If nobody has an incentive and/or is held accountable for cost containment, neither politicians nor engineers, it’s easy to see why it’s not a priority.
We’ve finished examining how citizens prioritize safety, cost, volume and speed differently than traffic engineers, so our next installment will look at one reason engineers use to convince us that they know best – because of the standards.
Wednesday, November 27 by JerryFoster
Rt 571 Concept Illustration
Not only do traffic engineers prioritize safety lower than residents, the designs that supposedly increase safety cause more death and destruction. Why? Because motorists behave differently than engineers expect.
In 2012, there were 33,561 traffic fatalities, including 4743 pedestrians and 726 cyclists.
Traffic engineers’ safety improvements include paving wider lanes and shoulders, removing roadside trees, straightening tight curves, etc. According to AASHTO standards, “every effort should be made to use as high a design speed as practical to attain a desired degree of safety.”
Traffic engineers believe that designing for high speed will provide safety.
The crash data, however, show “wider lanes and shoulders were associated with statistically significant increases in crash frequencies.”
Noland reports that traditional “road ‘safety improvements’ actually lead to … increases in total fatalities and injuries,” because “this type of approach tends to ignore behavioural reactions to safety improvements”.
Dumbaugh reports that “a behavior-based understanding of safety performance is supported by research and literature in the field of psychology, which has focused on the subject of traffic safety as a means for understanding how individuals adapt their behavior to perceived risks and hazards.”
Marohn calls the traditional approach to safety “professional malpractice”.
Despite WWBPA recommendations, the design for Rt 571 in downtown West Windsor follows the traditional approach – 45mph design speed, another lane and wide shoulders – all in the name of bicycle and pedestrian safety.
We’ve seen that traffic engineers might improve safety by becoming better social scientists. Before following that, however, our next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer will look at cost.
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Wednesday, November 20 by JerryFoster
Unlike residents, our traffic engineers prioritize speed and volume over safety and low cost – why? It’s how they were trained.
We’re long past the era where roads provide orders-of-magnitude improvement, e.g. from walking to motoring, but policy still encourages speeding, e.g., engineers design for 5-10mph over posted speed, so 74% of drivers on Rt 1 in Plainsboro exceeded the speed limit recently.
Going faster means getting there faster, right? Only if you’re on the mythical open road – in densely populated New Jersey, we have traffic.
Speed can work against getting there faster in traffic, since cars stay further apart – the best volume throughput is at 30-46mph. Improved signal coordination and speed harmonization allow people to get there faster even though they’re going slower, by delaying the onset of stop-and-go congestion.
Historically, traffic increased year after year, but in 2004 per capita volume (vehicle miles traveled) declined (!), followed in 2007 by a total volume decline as the recession took hold. Though the Great Recession ended June 2009, total volume remains at recession levels, and per capita volume continues to slide.
Is it the end of “build it and they will come”? If so, engineers will have one more reason to change their priorities. In our next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer we’ll look at safety.
Wednesday, November 13 by JerryFoster
It’s hard to learn to love our traffic engineers – they don’t see the same world we do, and don’t want to talk about it. Why not? Have you been to a public meeting?
The public has issues – many residents have not learned to disengage knee-jerk thinking, do their homework or propose constructive suggestions. Some are hostile to any government action, including road projects.
We choose to live in West Windsor because of the promise of safety, good schools, open space and convenient train commuting. We love our cars, but don’t want traffic in our neighborhoods.
Charles Marohn, an engineer and planner, identifies the different values of residents and engineers. In order, residents prioritize safety, low cost, traffic volume and speed, while engineers prioritize speed, volume, safety and cost.
Value divergence shows in the effort to improve walking and biking along Cranbury Road. Despite WWBPA recommendations, residents’ public comments and numerous yard signs asking motorists to Drive 25, traffic calming was rejected as a project goal.
We’re determined to learn to love our engineers, so in our next installment we’ll focus on the most divergent values – speed and volume.
Wednesday, November 6 by JerryFoster
New Jersey traffic engineers don’t see suburbs, destroy downtowns with arterials and have refused to adopt road designs for neighborhoods. How will we learn to love them?
We have to understand that traffic engineers love solving problems, just not social problems. They’ll design how to move cars through an intersection, but not how to preserve or create a downtown, increase property values or reduce pollution – yet the intersection design can affect all these other goals, positively or negatively.
Although we’ve been building roads for millennia, we’re just realizing how motor vehicle traffic affects society. Using a computer analogy, traffic engineering is moving from the green screen to the graphical user interface – people want a richer experience, including multiple ways to get where we’re going.
Traffic engineers must learn to see themselves as social scientists, concerned with how people in addition to motorists interact with the roadways – residents, runners, dog-walkers, cyclists, etc.
People are puzzling – we love our cars, but hate traffic – how can engineers solve the dilemma? Find out in the next installment of Learning to Love Your Traffic Engineer – What the Public Wants.
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Wednesday, October 30 by JerryFoster
In our previous posts, we’ve seen that traffic engineers see urban where we see suburban or rural, and destroy downtowns by putting fast and wide arterials through them. As a result, conversations between residents and engineers are fraught with possible misunderstandings, making it very difficult to find the love.
Fortunately, this problem is well known, so the traffic engineering profession (Federal Highway Administration) developed Context Sensitive Solutions, to “develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.” In other words, it encourages engineers to see farms and neighborhoods where we already see them, and to build appropriate roads for those places.
NJDOT and PennDOT even published the Smart Transportation Guidebook in 2008, which provides flexible roadway designs, e.g. for a community collector through a suburban neighborhood, 100% compatible with existing design standards (the flexibility was already there, who knew).
Problem solved? Not quite – NJDOT didn’t adopt the principles and practices in the Smart Transportation Guidebook. Why not, and how can we learn to love our traffic engineers if we can’t even agree on neighborhoods? Stay tuned for the next installment – Social Scientist.
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